You’re probably familiar with the old saying, “You can get it fast, good or cheap. Pick two.” This is known as the Project Management Triangle, Triple Constraint or Iron Triangle. I’ve experienced this dilemma before, but usually it comes into play with more mature businesses, products and projects. In the startup or new ventures world, is it possible to remove (or reduce) the constraints and have it all?
The short answer is yes.
Lean Startup provides us with a framework for doing more, faster, while keeping costs in check. The core principle behind Lean Startup is to build the minimum needed to test a hypothesis, measure the results, and learn.
The goal is to move through the cycle as quickly as possible, as often as is necessary, to really figure out what matters (to users, customers, etc.) and then build the right thing at scale. If you invalidate something during the process(e.g. you had a hypothesis, you tested it, and found it not to be true), you go to the next hypothesis or assumption and keep trying. Ultimately, you should be doing more, faster for less money. You’re reducing risk and waste, both of which are incredibly expensive for companies.
It’s simply not the way most companies work. And while I believe integrating Lean Startup into the core of an organization is critical to its long term success, it’s a major initiative. Big companies like GE and Intuit have undergone this transformation over many years with meaningful results. You can start small, build a strategy and plan for effecting large scale, organizational change.
With that in mind, how can a big company do more, faster without huge budgets, and start right away?
Startups, done right, are already following Lean Startup methodologies. They’re moving faster, experimenting more, and closer to their customers. They have to go through build →measure →learn as quickly as possible, or they’ll fail. They have a short runway and all the pressure in the world to figure things out. The constraints of a startup (small budgets, small teams) enable them to be incredibly creative, aggressive and discover new opportunities.
Big companies typically have 6-month or 1-year roadmaps (if not longer.) They set year long and quarterly targets. They may already be engaged in innovation projects, but those will typically be about transforming the core (e.g. replacing legacy systems) and keeping it alive (and fresh) for the near future. Big companies will also have a laundry list of other priorities, ideas and “stuff on the shelf” that can’t be addressed immediately, and may never be addressed — even if some of those priorities and ideas could lead to true transformative innovation and long-term success. The new business models, opportunities for growth and solutions that will scale and reinvent a big company are often already locked up somewhere inside the company, with no mechanism for escape.
Startups — and in particular, Highline BETA’s co-creation model — provide that outlet to do more in parallel without impacting the core. It’s about instigating disruption and innovation, without having to be completely responsible for it from a resource and effort perspective. It’s about allowing others to identify, work through and validate the problems, opportunities and ideas locked up within your organization, in order to find new, meaningful ventures worth investing in.
No one can — or should — do everything at once, including big companies. Focus matters. A lack of focus kills. But the risk of not exploring new opportunities, on the periphery, which could someday become truly disruptive, is that someone else will do it first and take advantage.
I believe there are huge new businesses locked up inside every large organization, and the key is to find partners and processes for attempting to unlock and scale them.